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Can Business Fix Healthcare’s ‘Last Mile’ Problem?

Good morning and happy Friday, readers.

This is Sy taking over for Cliff once again as he’s busy chatting with some of the world’s top business executives and leaders about public health during the Fortune and Time Global Forum in Rome. You can follow the event in real time through the #fortunetimeglobal hashtag on Twitter.

On Thursday, Cliff interviewed Harvard physician Dr. Raj Panjabi, one of the very leaders working to address the stubborn inequities in global health. Panjabi was just named the winner of the $1 million 2017 TED Prize for the efforts of his organization, Last Mile Health, and told Cliff that private businesses can do much more to address healthcare’s so-called “last mile problem”—wherein even companies with massive distribution networks have trouble reaching the most vulnerable and secluded populations.

As my colleague Adam Lashinsky writes, Last Mile Health takes a proactive approach to this issue by training local residents in areas like rural Liberia to provide their communities with primary medical services and health information. But the true driver of health inequality is still economic inequality, Panjabi notes. And on that front, it’s up to the private sector to step up by working with general managers to hire rural workers and employing people from these developing communities to become part of companies’ global supply chains.

Catch up on the interview here. And read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


CRISPR hotshot Intellia is doubling its staff. Intellia, one of the pioneering firms behind the red-hot CRISPR gene-editing technology that’s been touted as a potentially powerful weapon against everything from cancer to sickle cell disease to HIV/AIDS, is sitting pretty. So pretty, in fact, that the firm is launching a massive R&D expansion that involves snapping up chic new lab space in Cambridge, Massachusetts and doubling its staff to about 200 workers. As readers know, Chinese scientists set off what one top U.S. scientist memorably compared to “Sputnik 2.0” by launching the first-ever CRISPR trial in humans at the end of October. It appears that American research outfits are making good on that analogy. Intellia had a $108 million IPO earlier this year. (Endpoints, Fortune)

Experian thinks healthcare will be the top cyber attack target of 2017. Analysts over at Experian have a sobering warning for healthcare organizations: get ready for more—and more sophisticated—cyber attacks in 2017. The firm has released its latest white paper on data breaches and predicts that ransomware makers will continue to exploit the numerous vulnerabilities in existing health IT infrastructure. So what can the medical industry do? “As attackers shift their focus, an increase in hospital breaches means the consequences for healthcare organizations that don’t properly manage this risk will increase,” write the report authors. “Healthcare organizations of all sizes and types need to ensure they have proper, up to date security measures in place, including contingency planning for how to respond to a ransomware attack and adequate employee training about the importance of security.” (Experian)

J&J just got hit with a $1 billion verdict over faulty hip implants. The troubles facing Johnson & Johnson over its Pinnacle hip implants—which plaintiffs say caused tissue death and bone injuries due to design flaws—piled up Thursday as a federal jury in Dallas levied a $1 billion verdict against the drug and device giant. Johnson & Johnson is facing some 8,400 lawsuits over the devices, whose “metal on metal” design that forgoes plastic and ceramic has been blamed by plaintiffs for a variety of injuries. The company said it plans to immediately appeal the decision. (Fortune)


Allergan’s CEO thinks biopharma is getting lulled into a false sense of security over Trump. Allergan chief Brent Saunders has some choice words for pharma: curb your enthusiasm for a Trump presidency. Healthcare stocks soared in the wake of Trump’s surprise victory this month, likely driven in part by the industry’s belief that issues such as drug pricing reforms would pretty much be off the table with a Trump White House and GOP-controlled Congress. But Saunders thinks companies may be taking away the wrong message, as he notes in an op-ed for Forbes and argued during the Forbes Health summit on Thursday. Trump’s campaign was largely conducted on a populist message, and the unpredictable president-elect could very well lash out at the industry once another Shkreli- or EpiPen-level debacle captures the national spotlight, Saunders argued. “Limit your price increases before we all face the impact of government regulation that stifles innovation and patient care,” he said. The big pharma chief has pledged a responsible drug pricing model as part of a “social contract” with patients. (Fortune)

Mylan chief Bresch is happy to have taught America a lesson about drug pricing. Another intriguing moment out of Forbes Health centered on controversial Mylan CEO Heather Bresch, whose company’s exorbitant price hike for the life-saving EpiPen drew outrage from the public and politicians on both sides of the ideological aisle. While Bresch said that she took “full responsibility” for Mylan’s pricing strategy, she still vigorously defended her decisions, arguing that there had been tangible improvements made to the product itself. And, in a sense, she believes that the furor helped shine a light on the way that drug pricing works in the context of the broader health system, including interplay with benefits managers and insurance plans. “I absolutely believe that if EpiPen had to be the catalyst to show this window of what families are facing in a high-deductible plan…than it would have been worth it,” she said during the summit. (Forbes)

Will Trump keep FDA Commissioner Robert Califf in place? President Obama’s choice to name Dr. Robert Califf as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration was widely praised by doctors who respected his medical and clinical experience and broad understanding of the contemporary issues facing the agency. Now, some are saying they hope President-elect Donald Trump will keep him on board. “We need to have a more nimble, more forward-thinking FDA, which was evolving under Dr. Califf’s short tenure,” said Dr. Clyde Yancy, who was a former president of the American Heart Association (AHA) during that group’s annual meeting. Reuters notes that a number of other top U.S. doctors, including from the American College of Cardiology, believe that Califf is the right man to steer the agency into the future in a time of rapid drug innovation. (Reuters)


Millions fewer American families reported problems paying medical bills over the course of the Obama presidency. The combination of an improving economy and significantly expanded health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, helped drive a steep decline in the number of Americans saying they live in families that had trouble paying their medical bills during the past 12 months. In fact, just 16.2% of Americans 65 and under reported living in such families during the first half of 2016, down from 21.3% in 2011, according to a new Centers for Disease Control (CDC) survey. Still, plenty of struggles remain. The exorbitantly expensive U.S. medical system prevents many patients from seeking care or filling prescriptions, and the survey finds that the share of Americans reporting a better medical finance outlook is starting to plateau. (Fortune)

Sitting at our desks all the time is pretty problematic. Just how bad are the health effects of our increasingly sedentary lifestyles? Well, about 75% to 80% of Americans suffer from lower back pain that’s mostly a consequence of sitting around all the time, which costs about $100 billion per year to the economy. But there are a number of steps that U.S. workers can take to counteract the perils of the desk job, including paying attention to their posture, getting the right kind of chair, and adjusting how long they stare at their computer screens. (Fortune)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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